|Part decorated bier|
|Eggs in Greek brioche with the view from the kitchen|
|Taking Christ down from the cross|
The photograph of the burning effigy below is the one I wanted to show you. I love the spaghetti-western feel to it - it needs a Morricone soundtrack and you just know Eli Wallach is in hiding behind the firewood. The extended family of the owner of the tour company occupy an entire hamlet which we visited for this. Every household was related to every other household - there were interconnecting doors between every building as a remant from when it had been bandit and vendetta country so someone being chased always had a choice of escape routes. This is their chapel, and Judas' head - a football - has just fallen off.
The real heights though are yet to come.
Late on Saturday night a service begins. Everyone attends, entire towns are at their church. There were more people there than I could believe lived in that one town. I didn't sit in on the service for several reasons - it would have been intrusive of me, there wasn't room and I'd been tipped off that it was better to be outside. The service doesn't finish until something special arrives - a flame is lit in Jerusalem, put into a plane, flown to Athens, used to light more and more lanterns, flown, driven and carried to every corner of the land and into each church and chapel. Then the flame is used to light candles carried by the congregation, each person passing the flame to next. This flame represents Christ and the resurrection and everyone is supposed to get it home intact to light a lamp in the shrine in their house which they try and keep alight until next Easter.
But before the candles snake home through the alleyways there is some serious celebrating to do: I had noticed shadowy figures on roofs earlier in the evening but assumed they were just getting a better view.
On a signal, these people in home made body armour and with sacks over their heads started setting fire to things. Rockets and fireworks lit up all the roofs immediately around the church. Gunfire ripped across the valley and up the hills as hunters fired their rifles into the air. Then the purpose of the shadowy figures became clear in a screaming whirlpool of burning phosporous - they had bundles tied on a rope, they lit them and whirled them over their heads as if they were going to lasso something, fire swinging around them, up and down and round and round - they were human Catherine Wheels, sparks flying everywhere including onto the crowds rammed below with the ropes making eerie noises as they rushed through the air. Sometimes the bundle would burn through the rope and go flying who knows where; the figures would just light another and continue. Everywhere above was light, noise and testosterone, everywhere around was a shifting sea of candles and devotion and the air was full to bursting with smoke and flying sparks.
And so it went on, until we drifted away on the tide of the crowd.
Religion can be fun!
Best of all, there is still time to book a flight - the Orthodox Easter is a very different date from the Western Easter - this year Easter Sunday is today in Western Europe but not until May 5th in Greece.
The tour I went on was run by the lovely Angela and Stelios at Strata Tours and I am delighted to have just discovered that even almost four years they are still using my photos on their Easter Tour page - a word to the wise though - if you are on the tour and find you are taking a seemingly random detour, don't worry, its just that Stelios in the other minibus wants to show off some olive groves that he or his family own :) I cannot recommend these people highly enough - they have self catering accommodation as well if you just want to do your own thing.